If the understandings reached on Thursday in Cairo between Fatah and Hamas remain valid even after the representatives from both sides return home, they are likely to expedite the release of Gilad Shalit. Because now Hamas has an additional incentive to wrap up the prisoner swap and claim for itself the credit and glory that comes with freeing Palestinian prisoners instead of bequeathing the task to a Palestinian unity government to which Fatah will also be a party.

On the other hand, these understandings will present Israel with a difficult dilemma. Should Jerusalem recognize a united Palestinian government comprised of Hamas and other factions, or should it adopt anew the position of Israel's government since the elections in 2006 which posits that any entity of which Hamas is a part is illegitimate?

A union between Fatah and Hamas, particularly the clause which calls for the merger of Hamas and the Palestine Liberation Organization, will present Hamas with a difficult dilemma. Will "the new PLO" be committed to the decisions made by the "original" PLO, including the Oslo Accords, or will Hamas condition the establishment of a revamped PLO on the renunciation of all past agreements?

A Hamas-Fatah reconciliation agreement is likely to play nicely into the hands of the Netanyahu government, given that, at least in the foreseeable future, it is difficult to see the new Palestinian government as a partner for a final peace settlement. Conversely, such a government could be a worthy partner for someone who is angling for "economic peace" and no more, one which would preoccupy itself with answering to the needs of the local population, development of infrastructure, and security arrangements.

Indeed, the Fatah-Hamas understandings speak of the formation of just three security arms - interior, national, and foreign - which will all be under the purview of one agency. The division of powers and the essence of these forces remain unclear, but they are likely to represent a unified address from Israel's standpoint that will primarly build an authoritative, ruling apparatus that will manage security affairs in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip in a way that will make it easier to deal with the Palestinians.

If Israel decides not to recognize a united government, it must also take into account that a Fatah-Hamas coalition will make it easier for the European Union, perhaps even Washington as well, to hold direct contacts with it. The rationale would be that such a government is one that rules with a mandate from all Palestinians, even if that government does not recognize Israel. It goes without saying that should Israel reject the idea of two states for two peoples, it would find itself on a collision course with the American administration.

A united Palestinian government is also an important first step for them to receive the financial donations earmarked for the rehabilitation of Gaza. It is true that the European Union and the U.S. conditioned the transfer of the funds on recognition of Israel, but the money committed from Arab states does not require such a condition be met. These countries can hand the money over to a Palestinian government that speaks for all the factions, paricularly if the alternative is money from Iran.